Dec 28

Seven pages of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Warning: Non-baseball content ahead

Frustrated with my kids for chronic insubordination, I turned to desperate measures. I started reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” to them.

That’s no statement against the book – anything but. Harper Lee’s novel is iconic to me. I mean, it’s the Atticus Finch of novels, the Gregory Peck of publications.  What more do you need to say about it? It is righteous in the best possible way, and I was resorting to it in the hopes that just by wielding it, its energy would turn things around.

But the book is arguably too mature for my 8-year-old daughter and definitely so for my 6-year-old son. (My 2-year-old boy listened with cheerful indifference for a few minutes.) Even the title was off-putting, my daughter going out of her way to make it clear that she didn’t want to read about any dead birds. I would have turned straight to the movie, but my kids have a much greater willingness to listen to words they don’t entirely understand than a willingness to watch anything in black-and-white, a bias that I have been unable to conquer with anything except Lucy Ricardo selling Vitameatavegamin.

The first paragraph of “Mockingbird” is promising: In those opening lines alone, we get football and a broken, misshapen arm.  But immediately, the book then takes a dangerous turn into ancestral backgrounds that are more in keeping with “War and Peace.” My kids’ had limited sympathy for Scout having no ancestors who fought in the Battle of Hastings. As soon as the second page, I found myself having to skip ahead, past the history of Simon Finch’s persecution at the hands of the Methodists, onto the relative excitement of Atticus passing the bar.

The vocabulary challenges also escalated: If I wasn’t having to explain what an apothecary was, I suddenly was finding myself having exposed my kids to “jackass” and “son-of-a-bitch” on page 3, all in the context of an early Atticus case defending two, well, murderers.  Live by the sword, die by the sword. That’s your grade-school bedtime reading for the night.

On the fourth page, before you even find out that your narrator Scout is a girl, you find out about Scout’s mother dying young. I was in a death spiral of my own.

Hope came in the next few pages, with the funny introduction of Dill, whose braggadocio about his reading ability got a laugh from my son. Shortly, on the seventh page, the specter of Boo Radley received its full, curdling introduction: Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom.

The clock having passed 9 p.m., half an hour past the kids’ bedtime, I stopped reading there at the end of that page. I had, to say the least, equipped them with supreme nightmare material, but at least I had worn them down.

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if I keep reading to them (seven pages down, 270 to go). Don’t know all three of us have the energy to keep going.  Maybe I quit while I’m behind. Maybe I’ve done just enough to get them to give the movie a try.

And yes, I’m aware that the material only grows more fraught with peril. I should stop, even if they start listening.

I want to keep going, though. I feel like there’s a moment here. And even though part of me knows that I’m rushing into it, part of me doesn’t want to wait.